Mom, Billy Called Me A Foodie!!!

When I picture enthusiasts, I envision older men who rebuild Model T’s or who do woodwork for hours out in their shops. I picture hipsters (or aging hipsters, a la Chuck Klosterman) hopping into their VW Jettas or their uberhip AMC Pacers and venturing from one spot where a cool, dead celebrity actually died to another spot . .  . where a cool, dead celebrity died.

I envy those people, cliche or not, because I’ve always wanted to be an enthusiast of . . . well, something. Simultaneously, I fear them. Sinking huge funds and efforts into a task that is not (gasp!) paying me is a frightening prospect. The blue collar voice inside my head is yelling, “Get back to work!” My fear is compounded by the weight of how some view enthusiasts. Urbandictionary.com, for instance, the source for all legitimate definitions, offers the following regarding enthusiasts:

A person who does something for a very long time but still sucks at it though he enjoys it very much. Thus, the term enthusiast is given to him as a consolation.

dictionary.com defines an enthusiast as:

a person who is filled with enthusiasm for some principle, pursuit, etc.; a person of ardent zeal
 
I believe the latter definition, but I am going to qualify it:
 
enthusiast: a person who is filled with enthusiasm for some principle, pursuit, etc. but who cannot seem to make any sort of money from all of this zeal either due to lack of market or lack of connections (or, on occasion, because s/he sucks at it)
 
If enthusiast–normally a word with positive connotation–occasionally comes with bumps, then shoving the word food in front of it comes with potholes. To be a food enthusiast these days appears to fall into a single pejorative category–foodie. Once again to urbandictionary.com for how some define what a foodie exactly is:
 
A dumbed-down term used by corporate marketing forces to infantilize and increase consumerism in an increasingly simple-minded American magazine reading audience. The addition of the long “e” sound on the end of a common word is used to create the sensation of being part of a group in isolationist urban society, while also feminizing the term to subconsciously foster submission to ever-present market sources. Though the terms “gastronome” and “epicure” define the same thing, i.e. a person who enjoys food for pleasure, these words are perceived by the modern American consumer as elitist due to their latin root forms and polysyllabic pronunciations.
 
A second definition for the word, found on the same website, is:
 
a douche bag who likes food
 
Oh, the wonders of the internet, letting people add as they please! The first entry misguides a bit; the words epicure and gastronome deal with gourmet items, which very often have been high-priced or rare, yet the entry deals fittingly, to me, with wanting to belong and with those who want to belong sloughing off any elitist terms (And please don’t neglect the part about Corporate America’s manipulation of the consumer.). The jerk who wrote the second definition is clearly and simply self-loathing (or has an ex who was a self-proclaimed foodie); nonetheless, I can see where his frustration originates because listen to how Wikipedia elaborates on the term:  
 
Foodies are a distinct hobbyist group. Typical foodie interests and activities include the food industry, wineries and wine tasting, breweries and beer sampling, food science, following restaurant openings and closings and occasionally reopenings, food distribution, food fads, health and nutrition, cooking classes, culinary tourism, and restaurant management. A foodie might develop a particular interest in a specific item, such as the best egg cream or burrito.
 
Seriously? restaurant REopenings? best egg cream?
 
I cannot help but keep in mind that most people in a Third World country will never be able to have an egg cream, much less pursue which egg cream is the best. This is a sad thought–less the egg cream (I’ve not had one, though I imagine it’s delightful) and more  the idea of not getting to freely pursue the genuine interest. Hell, in America, this same thing exists. I am currently teaching persuasion right now and am constantly having to remind my students to keep things in perspective for the audience. Just recently, one student excoriated proponents of year-round schooling because any year-round school schedule would prevent him from taking his two to three vacations per year! I couldn’t help but think, “What a suburban problem.”
 
While some restraint is useful, people do deserve their hobbies, as long as those hobbies are hurting no one else. Plus, not all views of a foodie are that bad. Here again is a description of a foodie from a 2006 Slashfood blog entry titled, “Foodie: What is That, Anyway?”:
 
To be a foodie is not only to like food, but to be interested in it. Just as a good student will have a thirst for knowledge, a foodie wants to learn about food.
 

Nicole Weston, author of the blog post (but who does not seem to have too much food experience herself), also explains why foodie has replaced epicure or gastronome:

In previous decades, words like “epicure” or “gourmet” were used to apply to the same type of person. The words are out of favor now, and bring to mind stodgy, snobbish people who are only willing to consider a restaurant that has truffled pate on the menu. This is because good food was hard to get and expensive in years, decades and centuries past. People didn’t have the resources to buy virtually anything they could want and often wouldn’t have the means to cook it. Now, both times and terms have changed.

Anyone can be a foodie.

A second source for looking at the sunnier side of foodie-ism is Wikipedia, which details the positive aspects of the rising foodie market:
 
Interest by foodies in the 1980’s and 1990’s gave rise to the Food Network and other specialized food programming . . . shows about food such as Top Chef and Iron Chef, a renaissance in specialized cookbooks . . . growing popularity of farmer’s markets [and] food-oriented websites like Zagat’s and Yelp. 
 
Okay, so not all of this is covetable. I’ve tried a couple of Rachael Ray’s items. Pass. And when I plopped down in the bookstore to read portions of Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History, only one question remained in my head, “Who the hell cares about salt THIS much?” With all due respect, Mr. Kurlansky, it is roughly 400 pages worth of salt information. It did come highly recommended, I must say, but I did not make it past the first couple of pages. For salt enthusiasts, however, it is a salt-induced boon. As my friend from high school once said, “Hey, whatever creams your Twinkie.”  
 
On the brighter and/or less daunting side, though, people are starting to take notice and appreciate the local farmer and his ingredients. This is good stuff. Also, sites like Yelp have helped to revolutionize the way food is reviewed. It is not magic; some reviewers, like the following who reviewed The Four Provinces with a full five stars, are more than a little hard-pressed to give a well-rounded opinion. Here’s how she starts:
 
I am amazed the star rating isn’t higher for this place.For the naysayers, we’re not in Ireland, so “shut your pie hole!”  Short of that, this is as good as it gets.

The best part of this place — THE STAFF!  I moved here 4 weeks ago from Chicago.  Moved to Falls Church on a Thursday night and went exploring the next day.  First place I walked in (yea, I’m half Irish), sat on the stool for what, 45 seconds, when Johnny the (head) bartender, saddled right up to me and said “who are ya, hon?”  Made me giggle like a school girl and a warm fuzzy from the absolute warmth!

I could, and will, go on and on about the staff.  Sheila (watch the guys fall at her feet), and is officially nominated to be on the Board of Directors of “The Cool Chics Club!”  Tommy, with one of the driest humors I’ve ever met… Brian, who could be a real player, but isn’t ….  

I digress.

Jaded at best, this review only goes uphill. Still, I’d like to believe that if enough honest reviews are logged for a restaurant, then reviews will stabilize. This, unfortunately, is not grounded in empirical evidence but in faith in the internet. Phew! Faith in the internet? Even I’m starting to doubt myself now.  

Back to reality.
 
Weston’s Slashfood blog mentioned earlier was written as far back as 2006, eons in the food industry and in the world of culture. Trends change fast. What was once a new term to coin those who enjoy all things food has now become a pejorative term. Though some will disagree, I stand by this firmly. It now seems cool to like food but not to be a foodie, per se. Even back in 2008 on Chowhound, one commenter stated, “I don’t really like the word “foodie” at all. It doesn’t adequately describe the depth of interest and passion of those who love food in all forms,” and another declared, “It’s the damn “-ie” ending that bothers me.” I’d have to agree with that last one, Maria Lorraine. These proclamations of the love of food and of the denial of the word are all over the eWorld. People just don’t like to be labeled, and that’s that. Intro the label, exit the novelty.
 
The more I’ve researched, the more I’ve realized that I fit the title of foodie, I guess. It’s like looking at a picture of a celebrity and having everyone tell me that I strongly resemble her . . . but I just cannot see it. I’ll be honest: from the moment I introduced the idea of an enthusiast, though, I’ve decided that that is what I’d rather be. Enthusiast, monetary reward or no, has stood the test of time, and who doesn’t see herself as the equivalent of an old man tinkering out in the shop? Now that’s the cool thing to be. The irony being, of course, that I am categorizing myself in an effort not to categorize myself. C’est la vie.
 
Please just don’t ever convert the label to be an enthusiastie. Lorraine said it best when she said, “It’s the damn “-ie” ending that bothers me.”
 
 
  
    
 
 
 
 

“Oh shit! I am the ‘Next Generation’!” — Learning to Savor Our Food

A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety.
Aesop

For those of you going to Super Bowl parties, today is not the best day to savor, but it can still be first day of your eating career.

Don’t get me wrong. Gathering with friends is a good thing. However, when we gather with friends over food, what we gain in friendship we often lose in food appreciation. Pursuing friendship and appreciating food are both excellent endeavors, but can they really be done simultaneously? Unless the food is the sole focus of the gathering, I think not.

Take a piece of fresh bread . . . please! Or a fresh anything. Really, go to your kitchen now, by yourself, before you head off to that Super Bowl party. Find something fresh.

(At some point during this exercise, make sure you are logged off of Facebook, Twitter, Snitter and Snatter.)

Now, slow your breathing . . . 3-1-6 . . . 3 seconds in, 1 second to hold, 6 seconds out.

Concentrate on relaxing your shoulders.

Take a bite of your fresh food. Concentrate on chewing, slowly. Concentrate on texture. What does it feel like? Concentrate on flavor. What does it taste like? Concentrate on your reaction. Do you like it? Why? Concentrate on whether you’ve ever concentrated on these things. If it makes you focus more, write down your thoughts.  

If you can’t do this now but get a second at the party, step out onto the back deck, bite into that chicken wing, and savor like you’ve never been able to do when you were sittng in front of the TV, hurriedly shoveling chicken wings into your gullet so that you can get back to that 7-layer dip before your cousin’s gluttonous boyfriend continues to double-dip into it.

On that back deck, are you going to look like a freak and have to explain yourself? If you are caught out there with a chicken wing, without a sweater and with your eyes closed, yes you are. You might get a moment to savor your food, though, and unless someone streaks across the football field naked this Super Bowl, your time out on the deck is the thing you’ll remember most . . . because you were in touch with your senses . . . or because years later, people still relay how some freak was out on the deck making love to a chicken wing. Either way, really . . .

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.  ~Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti, My Own Story

Eating is fleeting in this life we’ve created. Slow down. Enjoy.

This is one of the reasons I’ve become so enthralled with cooking and food. Of late, I have been more than discouraged with my impact on the world. I cannot pinpoint why, though I am trying. Then there is the question: why am I trying?

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

If Emerson’s quote about what makes life a success is true, then things look to be in fairly good shape. I laugh a good bit. Intelligent people surround me, and I would like to believe that I’ve earned their respect. I work hard to appreciate beauty, even if much of the beauty that appears in front of me certainly still bypasses my senses. Some things Emerson mentions may not be omnipresent in my life, but his statement of having “one life [that] has breathed easier because [I] have lived” is what I hope to be true.

I desire, often too much, to leave an impact on the world and, more importantly, to leave a legacy to my daughter. Even if she ends up as a non-cook, it will be of no consequence. (Reminder to future self: do not take personally any anti-cooking stance that your daughter adopts. You will not be able to control it anyway. The same goes when she decides that knowing the words to “Bust A Move,” still being able to do the “Running Man,” and falling asleep on the couch at 7 pm are all for lame-o’s, too. You will know that all of these things rock.) To know that she will go off to college appreciating the smell of homemade and recognizing the taste of freshness is paramount. I don’t want the world to be her Chicken McNugget; I want the world to be her fresh chicken breast with rosemary and sage.

“Ponder well on this point: the pleasant hours of our life are all connected by a more or less tangible link, with some memory of the table.”
Charles Pierre Monselet (French journalist and author)

Monselet’s point is the legacy I hope to leave Baby O. She does not have to love food as much as I. She just needs to remember the smells of her childhood home. May those smells make her “breathe easier” in times of happiness and strife.

I think I’ve been discouraged on my impact with the world lately because there is just so much stuff to learn that I cannot keep up. None of us will ever be able to keep up. I’d once convinced myself that I could keep up, and then when my father died and Baby O. was born, it made me realize, “Oh shit! I am the ‘next generation’.” I felt like people were looking to me to guide.

 In the years that have followed, I’ve struggled with taking the imagined lead I’ve been given and have decided that I have to focus on few things well, not many things haphazardly. All we humans can do is to promise to leave a “memory of the table.” To do this, we are going to have to actually taste the food for what it is.   

Yum! Strawberries with Dark Chocolate and Homemade Cream

To Cake or Not to Cake . . .

I’m standing in the middle of the Giant food store, and I don’t know whether to feel guilty or justified when I am thinking that Betty Crocker’s Angel Food Cake boxed mix, a “recipe” that only has one other ingredient necessary—water, is just too much for me to even consider making.

Aisle 5: I pick up the cake mix and ponder. This lady next to me is grating my nerves because she keeps going from one side of the cake section to the other. I move my cart out of her way, to no avail. Where ever I am standing, she is also. Hey, Lady, I am debating Angel Food here, okay. Is there something I can do you for? After about one minute of this, she decides on one of those Betty Crocker mini-microwave desserts and then ambles down the aisle with her cart. Au revoir.

Now I’ve a moment to consider my dessert options.

Let’s see. I’ve already planned to cook a Winter Pasta* from 101 Cookbooks that I can only hope goes well because making the dish involves pots, bowls, strainers, and a food processor, for crying out loud. My counter has been screaming at me, “I can only house so much cooking paraphernalia.”

Well, la ti da is my response. We cover you in granite, and this is what we get?

While making the pasta does involve a gadget this or a tool that, making dessert really does not, unless we’re talking about the hand mixer, which I will use to make homemade cream . . . to top the strawberries . . . that will top this cake that will or will not be. If I make the cake, then we’ll have a gadget parade and lots of cake lying around over the weekend.

These two thoughts are cumbersome. Back goes the cake mix. Must. Remember. Rule: Make baked goods on a work night. When my co-workers aren’t in the mood to eat baked goods (in January, right after New Year’s resolutions), I simply stand in the hallway of the high school where I teach, hold the baked good away from my body and watch a congregation of teenage boys form.

Cake mix returned, now I move on to the dairy aisle. Yep, I’ll make strawberries and cream—oh, and chocolate! Really, there must be chocolate. Return to aisle five. Ghirardelli’s dark chocolate chips, to melt. Then just freeze the rest of the chips. Yes, freezing them helps me justify the purchase. Also, berries are good for me, and the cream’ll be eaten up in a jif. Angel Food cake is overrated anyhow when there is chocolate in the vicinity.

With my problems solved, I stroll toward the checkout counter.

Enter discount code . . . Beep. Beep. Beep.

Then again, just imagine that berries, chocolate and cream atop the Angel food cake? Yikes, what a combo!

To the man in line behind me, “Excuse me, sir, can you hold on just a sec? I’m just running over to aisle five for something I forgot?” He rolls his eyes at me. I just knew he’d understand.

Strawberries with Dark Chocolate and Cream

Really, though, I never went back for the Angel Food cake. That was just for the narrative. If you wanted to make it a part of this dessert, however, it’d be a great addition. This dessert, as presented, is really easy to make, and if you prepped the cream and cut the berries beforehand, it’d be a fabulous dessert for when you have guests. Another idea to make it even easier for having guests is to melt the chocolate and dip the strawberries beforehand for chocolate-covered strawberries and then just put it all into a bowl for presentation and top it with the cream when the time arrives. Even easier? Store-bought whipped cream, but I’d suggest making the homemade cream every time. You’ll be glad you did.  

Prep level:    Super easy                               

Total time/actual prep time:   25/12                Serves: 4-6

Ingredients :

  • ½ pint Heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Approximately 1.5 Tablespoons powdered sugar (add to taste)
  • four pinches of cream of tartar
  • 1 lb. strawberries
  • approximately 5 oz. dark chocolate chips (I prefer Ghirardelli.)

Instructions:

To prep homemade cream:

  1. (preferable but still optional) Place hand mixer beaters and bowl in freezer for about 10 minutes.

  2. Remove items from freezer. Pour heavy cream into bowl. Beat with electric hand mixer on low for approximately four minutes.

  3. As you are mixing, add in vanilla and powdered sugar and cream of tartar. Mix for another 1-2 minutes. Place in refrigerator while you prep the rest of the dish. *I beat the cream until it is frothy and thickened; most recipes tell me that the cream will thicken enough to form peaks, but I honestly managed only to form light peaks. The cream of tartar is what helps with this; if you do not have cream of tartar or do not want to buy it just for this, you can skip it, but the cream will not become as firm.

To prep strawberries and chocolate:

  1. Rinse strawberries and cut the stems from each. Then, cut the berries into bite-sized pieces. Put in refrigerator.
  2. Into a small saucepan set to low heat and pre-warmed*, add chocolate chips. Constantly stir until chocolate is smooth. *For best results, do not pour chips into room temperature sauce pan.

Preparation:

  1. Into a small bowl or medium-sized coffee mug, add a hearty layer of berries and hefty dollops of both the chocolate and the cream. Finally, top with a small dollop of chocolate and a small strawberry, for garnish. Serve immediately.

Happy cooking! Happy eating!

*You saw Winter Pasta listed in the narrative preceding the dessert recipe. It turned out to be a delicious dish worthy of sharing and a great use for kale.

Recipe! Winter Risotto and When in Winter . . . Photo Album

When in Winter . . .

. . . when leaves put on layers

. . . when delivery trucks slumber

. . . when ice intends to linger

. . . when blooms pause for nature’s mourning

. . . do as Winter’s inhabitants do.

— Winter Risotto —

I am very proud of this dish. Weeks ago, I was playing around with what was left in my fridge and out came this warm risotto recipe. I find it a soothing dish for winter, and I hope you do, too. Though optional, I strongly suggest the cumin. Cumin is what makes this a winter dish to me. All risotto requires that I, and any cook, stick around to monitor it closely. No mind. The frost and ice outside do not tempt me but if they did, this dish would be a good antidote for frozen fingers and toes. 

Serves: Four

Prep time: approximately 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (preferably the already-dried product that comes in a bag, usually sold in produce section, as opposed to the jarred variety)
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 7-9 slices of turkey bacon
  • 1/2 to 1 Tablespoon olive oil (for cooking turkey bacon)
  • 2.5 Tablespoons olive oil (for risotto base)
  • 1/2 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup risotto
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth (vegetable broth will do as an alternative)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin, optional

Let’s do this!!

To cook bacon:

1. Slice turkey bacon. *See picture to the left.

2. Add 1/2 to 1 Tablespoon olive oil to large, round skillet and set to high heat.

3. Once skillet is hot, add turkey bacon.*In the picture, I’ve stacked bacon to make slicing easy. However, make sure to spread your bacon around the pan so it will evenly cook.

4. Cook for approximately 4-5 minutes, stirring around at least once or twice. Cook to desired crispiness. *If you include up to 9 slices, you may have to do in two batches (no new olive oil added)).

5. Remove bacon from pan and, to help drain the bacon’s grease, place bacon slices on a plate lines with a paper towel.

To cook risotto:

1. Pre-chop your scallions, sun-dried tomatoes, onions and shallot slices. Put to the side.

2. For risotto base, add 2.5 Tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 Tablespoon butter to a large, deep pot and put over medium-high heat.

3. Once oil and butter are hot, add onions and shallot slices. Cook for approximately 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions/shallot are translucent.

6. Reduce heat to medium. Add risotto and stir for approximately 2 minutes.

7. Add one cup chicken broth. Stir frequently until broth is absorbed. This will take approximately 10 minutes.

8. After first cup is absorbed, add second cup of broth, salt and pepper. Once again, stir frequently until broth is absorbed.

9. Add third cup of broth and cumin and absorb almost completely. Pull from heat immediately once only traces of broth are left in the pot.

10. Let sit for 1-2 minutes. Then add bacon, sun-dried tomatoes and scallions. Stir well. Enjoy with a nice loaf of Easy Little Bread from 101 Cookbooks.

Happy cooking! Happy eating!

Novice Cooking Tips: Cooking Rules To Remember :-)

For those of you who are cooking pros, you are about to come across some tips that you’ve most definitely heard.

For those of you who are cooking novices, you are about to come across some tips that will spare you some pissed off and hungry bystanders and a few cooker’s wrinkles.

Since I’ve started cooking, and since I am pretty much self-taught via cookbooks and experimentation, I have mostly learned these tips the hard way: color your meals, pre-chop the “choppable” items, and taste as you go. I still don’t always follow the tips as I should, but I definitely regret when I don’t. In sharing them, I hope to save you the strife that I have, on many occasions, caused myself.

Tip #1: Color your meals

Last year, I’d settled in to dinner with Matt and Baby O. Either my fatigue (such negativity!) or my adventurous spirit (positive spin!) had prevented me from having officially planned for the meal we were about to eat. Rummaging the kitchen cabinets provided the requisite inspiration. Here were the results: tilapia, white rice and cannellini beans. If you know these foods, then you’ll know that this meal was so white that it reflected back on to me and my fellow diners. Arguably, cannellinis are a bit beige, but . . . technicalities. At the time, however, I’d thought that the meal had come together pretty well given that we were totally out of fresh food, besides the fish. Fish, beans, rice, all nice.

Then it came time to sit down. I’d “plated” everyone’s meal and pulled my chair up to the table. Then I looked at my meal for a moment–really looked–and declared in a flat tone, “This meal is all one color.”

“So?” That’s what Matt said.

After taking the first couple of bites, I declared, “Even I don’t really want to eat it.” The meal was just boring, unappealing. This is the moment the importance of “coloring” a meal crystallized.

Since then, I’ve added color to my meal checklist. Greens and reds are particularly good and acquirable year-round. There’s basil and tomatoes and peppers and spinach, all that are so accessible, affordable and easy to slice and add as a topping or a side. Assuming you are not thinking Cheetos would be a fabulous fish topping, color forces vegetables and fruits into your meal, and it sometimes inspires new food combinations.

It’s definitely time to color.

Tip #2: Pre-chop, pre-chop, pre-chop!

Make this one a mantra until you are saying it in your sleep, in the grocery line, in the middle of your sentences. Pre-chopping will save you those wrinkles I mentioned earlier. I’ve repeatedly tried to convince myself, “Oh, I’ll just chop this while the pasta cooks and chop that while my bacon is sizzling.” Of course my mind has convinced me this is the most time-consuming method! News flash: It has NEVER saved any time.

Chopping while waiting for the pasta to finish? Cooked pasta ain’t waiting for nobody. Al dente turns into Al rubber-aye.

Pending the bacon sizzle? What was intended to be brown bacon now matches the black skillet in which it sits.

I hate to put the pressure on and turn you into a stickler perfectionist cook, but pre-chopping is a necessity if you want to remain sane. As I write, I think that I must not have a desire for sanity sometimes. Well, a good cook does need to be a little crazy!

Remember, you can usually chop hours in advance of dinner if you don’t want to shove everything together, time-wise. Ha! I still never do this, but it is a great suggestion.

Tip #3: Taste your food as you go

I still sometimes get caught up in the whirlwind of making the recipe and forget to do this. I’ve cooked fish, chicken, and pork chops and have forgotten to do this. I have cooked . . . . drumroll . . . a whole dish of red beans before without doing this. Are you kidding? Those take hours and no one will be eating them if they are without season.

When I was in college, my roommate Amy and I were rushing around the kitchen. We had scarce space and at one point, Amy bumped me, I bumped the oven, and we both watched the salt shaker fall from the back of the oven right into the uncooked but already-mixed brownie mix. We hurriedly dug out the shaker and moved forward. That’s one recipe we probably should’ve taste-tested, but what’s a party without salty brownies?

The more you manipulate the recipe, the less the recipe manipulates you. When you feel you can manipulate a dish, then the fun begins. Maybe that last sentiment is just for control freaks.

Short, sweet and hopefully helpful–

Let the cooking commence.

Happy cooking! Happy eating!

Recipe! Peppers and Pancetta with Grits

Grits, grits and more grits. They are smooth, buttery, sometimes cheesy, and they are the perfect antidote for chilly winter days, even though this January, at least, is shaping up to be a mild one. All the more reason to stock up on and spoon in grits ahead of time; your body will be conditioned for the warm grit onslaught that should be a key component of the chilliest part of winter. I have made this grits dish for three dinners so far. The last time I made it, I whipped up some Paula Deen’s Homemade biscuits, too, and, while chomping on a biscuit, thought that while this dish served as a great dinner, it would be the perfect dish for a brunch . . . and easy, too.

Mmmmm . . . grits and anything is a great combination! If you aren’t really familiar with grits, let’s get you there:

  • What are grits? coursely ground hominy
  • What is hominy? it is when the bran and germ have been removed from a piece of corn
  • Each year, St. George, SC hosts the World Grits Festival! The festival started there because they’d realized at one point that they were the place that ate “more grits per capita than any other place in the world.”* The festival holds an event called “Rolling in the Grits,” which sounds absolutely a mess but awesome, too.
  • GRITS is the acronym for the Georgia Registry of Immunization Transaction and Services, a unit that handles vaccination records and disease prevention for the state. Once you know this fact, just forget about it when eating your grits.
  • Speaking of Georgia, I learned that they made grits their State Prepared Food back in 2002. I’ve gotta say, “Dammit, Louisiana! What the hell were you waiting around for, a personal invitation?”
  • Grits is a Nashville-based musical act, and their music is not what you are thinking, I bet. Get a taste.
  • Back to South Carolina’s St. George . . . Major reason to support St. George’s World Grits Festival: it has churned out recipes including Deep Fried Grits-n-Cheese, Hot Tomato Grits and Hush Puppy Grits. There’s no way to go wrong with grits in any form, especially fried.
  • Across the internet, a factoid abounds that 3/4 of the grits sold in the U.S. are sold in the “grits belt,” the area of the country that covers Texas to Virginia.

That grits is a Southern-based food should not deter you. Time to own those grits.

Peppers and Pancetta with Grits

Ingredients:

Makes enough for four.

*Note: You can also substitute couscous for the grits in this dish. Cook according to directions on the package. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see pictures of both dishes.

For grits:

  • 3/4 cup old fashioned grits (Quaker or similar)
  • 3/5 cups water
  • 1/2 – 1 Tablespoon butter
  • salt and pepper

For peppers and pancetta:

  • 1.5 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 shallot, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 bag of mini peppers (10-11 rainbow peppers in a bag) or 3-4 large peppers, chopped
  • 3/4 Tablespoon butter
  • 6 slices or approx. 6 ozs. pancetta, loosely chopped

*Please prep your ingredients. It will really make your cooking more enjoyable.

For grits:

1. Cook grits according to directions on package. I have based my ingredients on the Quaker Old Fashioned Grits product. This product advises you to cook your grits for 15-20 minutes, but I cook mine a little longer to help with water reduction. When I cook my grits, there is still some water at the top of my grits after about 23 minutes or so, but I pull the pot from the heat and let it sit while I finish up my peppers, and the results are delicious.

NOTE: ** I would advise against turning up the heat to speed up the process because grits will harden.  Just be sure to start testing your grits after about 15 minutes to get them to your liking.

2. I add my salt throughout the process and then add my pepper and butter at the end of the process; I do it all to taste.

For peppers and onions (while grits are cooking):

1. To a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and chopped garlic. Let saute for one minute.

2. Add shallot and onion to skillet; lightly salt and pepper. Saute for approximately 3.5 minutes.

3. Add all of your peppers; lightly salt and pepper. Add 3/4 Tablespoon butter to pan. Saute for approximately 6.5 minutes.

NOTE: **With all of these time allotments, I am working on browning and doneness. My goal is for my onions to be browned and for my peppers to be lightly browned but still have some mild crunchiness to them. Monitor your cooking to achieve the consistency you desire. Overcooking will lead to soggier peppers. Some people like it this way.

4. Line a plate with a paper towel. After the peppers are to your desired consistency, transfer all of the sauteed ingredients to the plate. Return the skillet to the (still functioning) burner.

5. To the same skillet, add the pancetta. Render until golden brown, which takes approximately 5 minutes.

6. When pancetta is ready, return peppers and onions back to same skillet. Stir ingredients together, move burner to low setting, heat for one minute.

7. To ready dish for presentation, make a bed of grits on a plate. Place peppers and onions atop grits. If desired and you have it, add a sprig of parsley or similar for a hint of green. You can also make these peppers on a bed of couscous for a lighter dish.

Peppers and Pancetta with Couscous

Preserving the Lagniappe Culture: Food Memories

Earlier this week, a co-worker asked me, “Which culture, if any, would you identify yourself with?”

I paused, pretty sure I understood his question but not entirely. “Exactly what do you mean?”

“Well, sometimes people identify themselves with a culture, and I was just wondering if you did, too. You may not.” While this did not exactly bring added clarity, I still felt I understood him much better.

“It would be the Southern culture. Yes, if there is any one culture, it’d be Southern.”

*                            *                            *

Is it true that if you live away from a very cultural place for a long time that you could lose that culture entirely? If you were rooted in the culture to start, that seems a pretty impossible task. How long would it take–or does it take–to lose a culture? What if you don’t want to lose the culture? Are you battling uphill without a weapon?

Losing a culture with which you closely identify is a very dreadful idea indeed. Not to have identified with one in the first place is scary, too, but cannot be helped except to move forward, to embrace an entirely new culture.

I cannot help but to believe that moving away from the mores of a particular region will result in some loss. That’s natural. However, I also believe that all does not have to dissipate into the nether regions of legacy maintenance. Cultural preservation, I suppose it is called.

Here is my contribution.

*                        *                         *

Pass the Sauce

                  King Cake Mayonnaise Saltines Raw Oysters w/Horseradish, Ketchup & Lemon Crawfish fat, bursting Strawberries I wanna Snowball with Condensed Milk on Top, Bubble Gum flavored like I always get. My Daddy loves to cook me redbeansandricewithsausageandasideofcornbread. He also cooks me tomato gravy and gives me a slice of white bread to soak it up. When it’s New Year’s, Mama cooks up the black eyed peas, cornbread and cabbage. It’s gonna bring me good luck. We all eat gumbo when it’s cold outside and when it’s not. It ain’t right if you don’t put the rice on top of the gumbo. Rice swims in gumbo. Everyone knows that. I mainly like fried oyster po-boys, but I’ll take the shrimp if that’s all you have.

*                    *                    *

                Fried oyster po-boy, dressed. I’ll need some hot sauce, please.  Crystal’s only, though, because it’s not too, too hot like that Tabasco. . . . I cannot take that kind of hot. People say, “You from here, right? You got to like spice!” Well, a little spice might make things nice, but I’m not trying to go up to Charity, right? . . . Hey! Are the oysters seasoned with Zatarain’s or Tony Cachere’s? . . . Why you lookin’ at me like that? I know it’s a crazy question! Sorry I asked . . . Look, I’m fixin’ to get on down the road and take my meal home with me. See ya’ll later.

*                    *                    *

                Come on, Mee-chelle, we going to Mike Anderson’s. Im’a get us some oysters. I just want to see if you’ll eat them. I know I will, and your momma won’t eat with me . . . Yeah, they’re gonna be raw. Of course they’re gonna be raw. You know your Daddy. The only way I like them is raw with a little horseradish and ketchup mixed together. On the half shell . . . Oooooowee! I love me some raw oysters . . . See her eating those? I’m tickled pink that I can get my daughter to eat them with me. Her momma don’t care for them as much. Shoot, I’ve tried to get her to come with me, but she won’t, so I thought I’d bring Mee-chelle. Shoot, Mee-chelle can eat oysters all day. Put each one on a little cracker after you dip it in the sauce. Watch her, she likes it . . . Yeah, she’s smiling. Raw oysters are good.  Sure do wish her momma would come with us, though.

*                    *                    *

                I’m the secretary, so I’m in charge of this year’s crawfish boil, and you’re going with me. I’ve already ordered the crawfish and the corn and the potatoes at $2 a pound. Now I’ve got to find a place to have this shindig. Remember when you went last year there was not a lot to do? This year we are going to have it out at the park, so you ought to find yourself a friend to bring with you. Ya’ll could go to the lake. You could bring a fishing pole or something. Maybe that’d be fun. I’m going to be in charge of clean-up and all that other stuff. You helped me with that last year, which was a big help. You’re a good daughter, Michelle.

*                    *                    *

                 Alright, if I just scrounge up some change, I can go down to get me a snowball. I’ve got $1 here, but 25 cents more and I can get that condensed milk on top. I wish’d it hadn’t taken me so long to figure out I like that stuff. Daddy says it’s nothing but pure- dee fat. He don’t care, so I don’t care. I’m gonna go to that place that says “SNOWballs” spray painted in big, black letters on the front. I like their crushed ice the best. They put just the right amount of juice, too. I hate when the juice drowns out the bottom of the Styrofoam cup.

     *                        *                        *

                 Pralines on wax paper in the kitchen. They might stick to the paper a little bit, honey, but ain’t nothing you cain’t take a knife to. You being my oldest grandchild, you can manage to get it yourself. If you spill, be sure to pass the vacuum under that table.

*                    *                    *

                  Oooooowee, Mee-chelle! I know whereyou could get you some big ol’ strawberries—down at an intersection in Bogalusa. This man was there the other day sellin’em, and we bought us a flat. Ten dollars a flat, I think it was . . . The man sellin’em is your cousin. I bet you didn’t know that . . . I’ll give you ten dollars right now if you go down and get some . . . I know it’s 20 minutes away, but they sure are big and juicy. Ooooowee! Them suckers’ll melt in your mouth . . . Come on, I’ll go down there with you. I’ll drive you and buy you a flat . . . Well, I know you’re one person, but there’re a lot of things you could do with some big ol’ strawberries like the ones I seen . . . Come on, we’re going. Now I gotta have me some strawberries.

*                     *                   *

Honey, I done made Mississippi Mud Pie so many times that I cain’t even taste it. I just make it up and serve it to whoever walks in the door. Look over yonder for a pie knife in that drawer. Cut you a real big piece.

Just in Time for Party Season! Rudolph’s Cranberry and Lime Christmas Cocktail

 

Rudolph’s Cranberry and Lime Christmas Cocktail

Difficulty Level:   Easy                         Prep Time: 5 minutes                     Makes: 2 cocktails (for size of champagne flute)

Ingredients:

  • 8 Tablespoons warm sparkling apple-cranberry juice (Martinelli’s or similar)
  • 5 Tablespoons sparkling wine
  • fresh cranberries
  • 1 lime
  • a little more sparkling wine or juice for “topping off”

LET’S DO THIS!!

1. Put a small handful of cranberries into your champagne flute/glass.

2. Cut your lime into thin wedges.

3. Place a small saucepan on low heat.

4. Pour in 1 cup of apple-cranberry juice and warm for approximately 2-3 minutes.

 

*Before I remove, I always touch juice lightly to make sure it is warm but not too hot to drink.

**Also, Martinelli’s has a variety of other flavors, but I’ve tried some with this, and I definitely like this flavor the best.

5. Using a tablespoon, measure out 8 tablespoons of the warm apple-cranberry juice first. Put straight into flutes/glasses.

6. Using the same tablespoon, measure out 5 tablespoons of the sparkling wine. Put straight into flutes/glasses.

7. Use either your juice or sparkling wine to “top it off.”

8. Squeeze your lime wedge into the mix and then throw in lime wedge.

Cookie Time! Chocolate Chow Mein Clusters the First

How do you come up with the name for a cookie that you just completely made up? Well, sort of made up.

My mother used to make these delicious, little cookies with chow mein noodles in them. What else? Maybe butterscotch? Yes, yes, butterscotch. What else? I cannot remember.

Call the recipe-ist? Tempting.

However, this was an opening to get into the kitchen to just do. To just put a new twist on an old memory . . . and to give this creation, if it worked, an obnoxious name. Here’s the result:

Chocolate Chow Mein Clusters the First

Maybe now you can use them to act out a play where Clusters the First bears a myriad of sons and one day pisses off Clusters the Second. It’s your play, so you’ll have to think of the conflict, but the end should result in a chow mein catastrophe.

Once I made this recipe, I proceeded to do research because I knew my cookies wouldn’t be lucky enough to be the archetype. Sure enough, endless recipes abound for a recipe similar to mine — all called “____ Haystacks,” usually “Butterscotch Haystacks.” Plenty of people have also thrown chocolate in there, too.

I hereby declare that with this recipe, there are three key differences, however:

a) No need for a double boiler to melt your chocolate. This boiler might sound exciting to use, but I’m working on limited room in my kitchen, so I cannot spare another tool–unless it is a panini maker. Ina Garten said that she loves hers, so I now need one. You can use a microwave to melt chips, if need be, but something about that subtracts from the experience.

b) This recipe includes chocolate. The chocolate part isn’t original, but a chocolate addition to anything sure is delicious. I cannot believe I’m saying this, but to accommodate anti-chocolate lovers, sub in more butterscotch where the chocolate should be.

c) The haystacks stamp is nowhere to be found. Don’t you find the idea of eating a Cluster the First appeals more to your need for power than does eating a haystack? Haystacks are rough and functional; Clusters the First are for real men, women and children who have both a real lust for cookies and a need to snap a twig off of a tree if that twig gets up in their way.

Chocolate Chow Mein Clusters the First

Difficulty level:  Easy       

Total time:  10 minutes prep/2 hours in refrigerator     

Yields:   16 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups La Choy (or similar) chow mein noodles
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or Nestle chocolate chunks)
  • 1 Tablespoon milk (optional, to add creaminess to melted chips)

LET’S DO THIS!!

  1. Pour two cups of chow mein noodles into a medium-sized bowl. You can chop the chow mein noodles with large, sturdy spoon, if desired. (The smaller you make the pieces, the more you can taste the chocolate. The larger, the more you can taste the noodles and butterscotch.)
  2. Add peanut butter and honey to chow mein noodles. Mix enough so that peanut butter, honey and chow mein noodles are rough mixture.
  3. In a small saucepan, over medium low heat, add butterscotch chips and 1/2 Tablespoon milk (milk optional). Stir for about two minutes, until the chips are melted together and are the consistency will be of fairly smooth peanut butter.
  4. Add melted butterscotch to the existing chow mein mixture and stir. This time, look for your mixture to mesh.
  5. In the same saucepan, over medium low heat, add chocolate chips/chunks and 1/2 Tablespoon milk (milk optional). Stir until the chips are melted and are the consistency will be of fairly smooth peanut butter.
  6. Add melted chocolate to the existing chow mein mixture and stir thoroughly.
  7. Drop by the spoonful onto wax paper. You should be able to make approximately 16 spoon-sized balls.
  8. Place in the refrigerator for at least two hours, to firm.

Eat! Happy cooking! Happy eating!

Ah . . . Those Starbucks Holiday Drinks! Peppermint Ain’t My Bag . . .

Bah-Humbug . . . to peppermint flavored anything (except those little mints that do come in handy post-Mexican fiesta)!

Starbucks has three seasonal drinks advertised in store right now: Eggnog Latte, Caramel Brulee Latte, and Peppermint Mocha. I have only myself to blame for dropping $4.15 on the latter. I KNEW that I like next to nothing that is peppermint flavored, but I thought I’d get the Peppermint Mocha for two reasons:

a) It’s been a while since I’ve attempted to play an active role in my Food Blog Challenge 2011. How am I going to spearhead my massive following of people also taking the challenge? (Cue crickets).

b) I wanted to get something a little less fattening than the 15 grams of fat that comes in a tall Eggnog Latte, so I opted to get the Skinny Peppermint Mocha (which was useless because now I’m drinking a beer . . . more calories than fat but . . .)

The Peppermint Mocha was a mistake.

Starbucks describes the drink this way: “Peppermint lovers, rejoice! Espresso, steamed milk, bitter-sweet chocolate and peppermint flavor swirl beneath a layer of classic whipped cream and silky, chocolate curls.” Sounds pretty tempting, right?

No, thanks.

This drink has peppermint syrup and chocolate in it, which may very well sound tempting. However, to a non-peppermint lover, if the chocolate and the espresso do not mask the peppermint, I have discovered, upon my research, that nothing is going to redeem the drink.

I may be the only little holiday soul that feels this way, but I really do not love peppermint. I don’t mind that the flavor of peppermint is nauseatingly ubiquitous at Christmas, and I would actually line my mantel with candy canes if I thought that Baby O wouldn’t spend inordinate amounts of time standing under each one and repeating, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” (She’s two). It’s just the taste of peppermint that I do not prefer. It’s very . . . false . . . to me.

Photo courtesy of D. Robertson

The thing about the drink is that chocolate follows up the entire thing. I’m picky, I imagine. I want to end my coffee with coffee. I was all confused at the end of this cup.

After reaching the bottom of the cup, I proceeded to do some research. Was I a holiday misfit?

Here’s what appeared in my Bing search when I typed in “Peppermint Mocha Reviews”:

–Oh, why bother breaking it down? It was basically a lot of people who are pleased with the drink and very few who aren’t.

I can stand being in the minority . . . on a similar note . . .

Photo courtesy of Maggie Smith

I also found something else:

a Kahlua Peppermint Mocha Review

This review states that “while the peppermint is in the attack and finish of the liqueur, it doesn’t overbear the chocolate notes or leave you saying, “Wow, that’s a lot of peppermint!” Unlike a peppermint schnapps in some cocktail recipes, Kahlúa has definitely found a striking balance in their latest liqueur. You won’t feel like the peppermint owns this Kahlúa recipe just because the name comes first in the label.”

Hot Damn! I do not like the Starbucks drink or peppermint-flavored stuff in general, but maybe I should give this Kahlua number a try. Is it possible that peppermint could grow on me if I just try hard enough?

Shake, shake, shake. Kahlua says, “It is decidedly so.”

Have you had any of these holiday drinks? Do you love the Peppermint Mocha or something else? Chime in.